Blackcurrants, easy to grow, and reliable with it.


Blackcurrants, like many fruits contain a collection of the elements that dieticians recommend we make part of our diet in these days of overly processed foods. It will come as no surprise to you that juicy blackcurrants contain a lot of water, but they are also swelled with three times the Vitamin C of oranges and are second only to blueberries in their levels of important antioxidants known as anthocyanins. It is claimed these anthocyanins can help fight against the ageing process, and also combat cancer, cardiovascular disease, joint pain, eyestrain, urinary tract infections, and kidney stones.

These points alone should be enough to cause you to put spade to soil and create a mini blackcurrant plantation in your garden, offering you the raw ingredient for many jams, pies, smoothies etc. However, possibly the greatest reason for planting your own is that you will no longer have to rely on shop bought blackcurrants with their air miles, dubious provenance and unknown treatments, chemical or otherwise. It's well worth your while popping in a few blackcurrant plants if you have the space.

The rules for positioning your blackcurrant plants are similar to that of the gooseberry plants detailed last week. In short, avoid areas of extreme shading, wind exposure, and pieces of ground lower than their surroundings. A slightly acidic soil (pH of 6.5 to 6.8) is required, neither too dry, nor too wet.

Varieties, and season of flowering

Some of the criteria for selecting particular varieties of blackcurrants for your garden are size of crop, growth habit of bush; flowering and fruiting season, and resistance to pests and diseases. In my opinion though, the season of flowering has to be your number one consideration.

You see, many blackcurrant varieties flower just after mid-April, a time when they are still at risk from frosts and cold winds. Cold-damaged blossoms equal poor fruit set, resulting in few if any currants for you enjoy. So it will pay you to seek out late flowering blackcurrant plants, and to get you started, here are a few...
'Malling Jet' produces large crops of dark fruit on long strings of 20 berries, the length of which makes picking easy. However, each bush is quite large requiring 2 metre (6.5 ft) spacings, so may not be suitable for the smaller garden.
'Ben Sarek' on the other hand, has a very compact growth habit requiring a spacing of just 4 ft if space is limited, but the plant still produces heavy yields (4 to 5 kg) of large juicy fruits. Ben Sarek is also virtually immune to mildew disease, which means you will not have to spray against this ill.
'Ben More' again has a nice tidy habit, growing to a cup-shaped manageable bush. This shape supports a heavy crop of sharp flavoured berries ideal for all you tart makers out there.

Bear in mind that even though blackcurrant plants are self-fertile, if you plant two or more varieties that flower around the same time in the same garden, you will attain much better fruit set. When purchasing your blackcurrant plants ensure you buy two year old plants labelled as virus free, so that once planted they will remain productive for over fifteen years.

Planting and initial pruning of blackcurrants.

The planting of blackcurrants is similar to that of the gooseberry plants detailed last week, in that the best time to plant your bushes is October; although anytime up to February is satisfactory, as long as the soil is not frozen or water-logged. Similarly, you should create planting holes approx 1.6mtrs (5ft) apart each way within an area pre-prepared by digging a 2ft by 2ft hole to a spades depth and forking in organic matter such as compost.

The young blackcurrant should be planted about 5cm (2in) deeper than it was in the pot or 5cm below its old soil mark if bare-rooted. This is done to encourage young shoots from just below ground level.

Where the blackcurrant differs greatly from the gooseberry is that the currant plants should be cut back upon planting, again to encourage young shoots from below ground.

Using sharp secateurs, trim each shoot to an outward-facing bud about 5cm (2in) above soil level. Many gardeners new to fruit growing are loath to reduce in height a fruit bush they are desperately willing onwards to grow, but this early cutting back encourages a sturdy root system as well as strong stem growth to carry your future blackcurrant crop.

View further information on this topic in the Irish gardeners forum >>>>

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